Tag Archives: DNA

Hair evidence analysis is not so great

I came across this very interesting press release which stated that in many FBI cases hair analysis’ reliability was exaggerated when making a positive identification in FBI cases.  These include 27 capital cases.

According to the press release, the FBI labs reports have consistently asserted that hair analysis can’t be used to make a positive identification.  However, some FBI agents asserted that hair analysis led to near-certain matches.

In other words, the practice of using hair analysis was deemed “highly unreliable” by the National Academy of Science.  Even though it is possible to conduct hair microscopy and find similarities among various samples, “in many cases the FBI analysts were overstating the significance of these similarities, often leaving juries with the false impression that a hair recovered from the crime scene must have come from the defendant and could not have come from anyone else.” (italics and underline added).

The FBI and the Justice Department uncovered the cases in a review of more than 20,000 lab files that was undertaken in consultation with the Innocence Project and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the story says.  So far, about 15,000 files have been reviewed, turning up about 2,100 cases in which hair evidence was used and 120 convictions that could be problematic, including the 27 capital cases.

The Innocence Project Co-Director Peter Neufeld made the following statement:

The government’s willingness to admit error and accept its duty to correct those errors in an extraordinarily large number of cases is truly unprecedented.

The Justice Department will notify prosecutors, convicted defendants and their lawyers if a review panel finds FBI examiners made excessive claims. In such cases, the Justice Department will waive rules that restrict post-conviction appeals and will test DNA evidence upon the request of judges or prosecutors.

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Gene patents: Sup.Ct. provides a guide

Some time ago, I posted about a case about patenting genes.  In Ass’n for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc., No. 12-398 (2013), Myriad was trying to patent genes.  Their argument, in summary, was that because they isolated a gene, they had the right to patent it.  The question is really whether it is a product of nature or manmade.  Here, the Supreme Court stated some DNA genes could not be patented, while another was.

The decision explained under what circumstances DNA can be patented and cannot be patented.  The DNA (BRCA1 and BRCA2) in this case involved genes which can involve mutations that increase the likelihood of breast cancer.  Regarding these genes, the Supreme Court ruled against the patent because it held that merely isolating the DNA gene does not make the DNA segment patent eligible.

The Supreme Court explained that Myriad isolated the gene and identified its precise location and genetic sequence.  Myriad did not create or alter the genetic information encoded in the genes (BRCA1 and BRCA2).  In addition, the Supreme Court noted that a new nonnatural occurring molecule is not created by isolating the DNA.  The patent focused on the information contained in the genetic sequence.  If another where to use the process, the same molecules in the genetic sequence would be seen.

However, the case also discussed a different synthetic gene, which the Supreme Court ruled could be patented.  Myriad created cDNA molecule by removing the introns from the DNA sequence.  The creation of cDNA resulted in a exons-only molecule.

 

Exons-only molecules are not naturally occurring.  Both parties agreed that cDNA differs from natural DNA in that the non-coding regions have been removed.  Even though the nucleotide sequence of cDNA is dictated by nature, the Supreme Court held:

the lab technician unquestionably creates something new when cDNA is made.  cDNA retains the naturally occurring exons of DNA, but it is distinct from the DNA form which it was derived.  As a result, cDNA is not a “product from nature” and is patent eligible under s101, except insofar as very short series of DNA may have no intervening introns to remove when creating cDNA.  In that situation, a short strand of cDNA may be indistinguishable from natural DNA.

(italics added).  Consequently, the Supreme Court held that cDNA was patentable.

So what does this mean?  When genes are not altered or created, the gene is not patentable.  When a company isolates the DNA to figure out where it is in the gene and its sequence, the company is not creating a new DNA or altering the DNA.

So how can a gene be altered or created?  When the technician is creating a cDNA sequence from mRNA results in an exons-only molecule that is not naturally occurring.

via Details on Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc. : SCOTUSblog.

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DNA collection of arrested individuals

This month, the Supreme Court will hear arguments on the issue of whether it is constitutional for the State to require DNA collection of arrested individuals.  The case is Maryland v. King.  The argument is set for February 26, 2013.

As way of background:

  • The federal government and at least 26 states (including California, Illinois, and Florida) take DNA samples from some or all who are arrested but not yet convicted of serious crimes.
  • Last month, President Obama signed into law the Katie Sepich Enhanced DNA Collection Act.  The statute will help pay the start-up costs for other states to begin testing people who are arrested.

So what does this issue mean?  The issue is whether the State, without a search warrant, can take a DNA swap of an arrested individual – who has not been convicted.

The Maryland Court of Appeals stated the 4th amendment, which bars unreasonable searches, protects people who haven’t been convicted from having to provide DNA evidence.  In addition, the court stated, “Although arrestees do not have all the expectations of privacy enjoyed by the general public, the presumption of innocence bestows on them greater protections than convicted felons, parolees or probationers.”

The Maryland Court of Appeals further explained that DNA samples “contain a massive amount of deeply personal information.”

 

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